When Connie Elliott co-founded the Longmont non-profit organization Born to Read in 1992, she said she only expected it to last four or five years.
Now Born to Read is celebrating its 30th anniversary by providing free reading materials to families of newborns in the St. Vrain Valley School District.
Elliott and co-founder Gwen Sieckmann, both retired teachers, started the program to show parents how to improve their babies’ reading skills by reading to them aloud.
“It’s really important to start reading to your child right away,” Elliott said. “They may not understand, but they want to hear your voice.”
Elliott recalled the organization’s beginnings when she and the other volunteers bought books for about 400 newborns each year. By the end of this year, the nonprofit plans to help the families of at least 1,300 newborns.
Each Born to Read bag contains two books, a Longmont Public Library card, and several booklets and flyers with tips for reading to young children. Once assembled, the bags will be donated to Longmont United Hospital and UCHealth Centers in Longmont.
“We can’t be in the hospital, but we take the bags to the birth centers and the nurses distribute them to the parents,” said Marian Parsons, who became co-executive director of the nonprofit alongside Dede Alspaugh some 20 years ago.
Parson said she still has books at her house that were read to her as a young child.
“I remember learning to be careful with books because they’re special,” she said.
Each year, Parsons and Alspaugh apply for grants from local organizations such as the Longmont Community Foundation and the Longmont Rotary Club. In 2021, Born to Read received a spike in donations that Parsons attributed to the pandemic encouraging people to get creative with their spending.
“A lot of people were like, ‘Well, we have nowhere to go, so let’s give money,'” Parsons said. “And we have benefited.”
The additional funding allowed Born to Read to pack two books in each bag instead of one, which Parsons says was in response to a request from “many, many parents” over the years.
The two books are intended to encourage parents to continue to get reading material for their children in old age. “It lets them get started on day one,” Parsons said.
Born to Read also has a collection of Spanish language books that have been offered to Spanish speaking families since the organization was founded. Parsons said the nonprofit wants to help parents read to their children in their native language.
About every two months, volunteers gather at the United Church of Christ Longmont to put together the book bags that are eventually distributed at LUH and UCHealth. Volunteers fill about 250 bags at each assembly, covering approximately two birth months.
Alspaugh said more and more volunteers are needed. There are a few high school students who help with meetings, but “it would be nice to have more young volunteers,” she said.
Bookbag recipients are asked to complete a written evaluation with feedback on the program. For the management, the overwhelmingly positive response is a clear sign that parents are happy to receive the materials.
“All evaluations say that this program should be continued,” Alspaugh said. “They say, ‘We’re glad it’s here. Do not stop.'”